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The year is 1974 and so begins the carrier of progressive legends Rush, in what would become a discography celebrated for creating and inspire progressive metal. But before those days would come, this unknown Canadian band serving time hoping gigs in their van would release this self titled debut. Rush was originally released on the bands self-made Moon label after being rejected by the major labels. Irony considering this release would eventually become the largest selling debut in Canadian history.
First of note is the absence of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. The bands original drummer was Alex Lifeson’s long time friend John Rutsey, who also “wrote” the lyrics for the songs. I quote that do to the fact the lyrics were always changing, leaving Lee in a position to sometimes just wing it on stage. By the time the debut was recorded, Rutsey failed to deliver the final lyrics, forcing Lee to recall all the lyrics he had performed live or just write new ones. To this, Rutsey had a dislike for heavy touring. Further, Lifeson and Lee wanted to pursue songs in a progressive/technical way which didn’t settle well with the traditional rock persona of their drummer. With the group signing to Mercury and the U.S tour beginning Rutsey called it quits. Not that the drumming is bad, for they actually work well for the style of music presented. They just sound weak compared to later releases. Listen to All the Worlds a Stage to hear these songs with better drum work to see what I mean, including Peart’s drum solo lovingly nestled into the middle of Working Man.
History lesson aside, how does this album stack up to the massive discography of the godfathers of prog? Rush is an interesting amalgamation of hard rock and tantalizing hints of what was to come. And this is certainly hard rock with a large serving of Zeppelin love sans the acid moments. This is quite understandable in light of the fact the band wrote and performed these songs live over the five years leading to this release, creating classic hard rock designed to be performed in halls and bars from ‘69 to ‘74.
“Finding My Way” opens up the album and already you know this is a different Rush. Lee’s “Oh’Yea”, “Whoa, babe I’m coming to get you…” vocal puts you on notice. This is certainly not the lyrics of master muse Neal Peart. But the guitars kick and drag the listener along in a festival of riffs married to 70’s guitar rock done damn well. This song, with the album, wares the test of time well with only a few moments of dated rock creeping into the mix, but overall certainly sounds less dated than the material the same group put out in the late 80’s. “Need Some Love” is atypical of several tracks (“In the Mood, “Take a Friend”) in giving the listener a fun romp through the toe-tapping of bar room hard rock. This is the nature of this album. It’s got some good catchy riffs and for the astute listener deeper moments (The guitar work in “Here Again”), but at the end of the day this is rock, albeit heavier, and the kind of fun you have listening to tunes while having a drink at the bar. Not a bad thing, and certainly a lost art form in its own right, just surprising to associate with the group that wrote “Xanadu” and “2112”. As far as that style of hard rock goes, this album bashed the competition.
But we are not done, as the album ends with the critical mass of “Working Man”. In the epic story of Rush with this release being chapter one, “Working Man” is the foreshadowing of what is to come. Essentially, this is heavy metal’s answer to Styx’s “Blue Collar Man”. “Working Man” ignites the airwaves with a driving riff, pounding rhythms, and guitar solos married intricately and artistically in the key of heavy. Sorry to all of you 70’s bar-rock bands, your groovy jam-tunes just became the artistic equivalent of children drawings hanging from the refrigerator. This song is the driving force that put Rush on the music map and still holds its own as a classic to this day. Assuming you don’t happen to own one of the gazillion “Best of…” compilations Rush has put out, this album’s purchase is worth this song.
Less identifiable at first, the real spirit captured in this album is the natural love the band has for playing live, and it shows in each song. This spirit would continue through the next three releases and reach its zenith with their first live release All the Worlds a Stage before conceptual structures and artistic composition would completely occupy the group’s muse. But that is another review.
If you are not a fan of late 60’s to 70’s Zeppelin style hard rock, then you should just keep moving past this release. If you are looking for early prog, then you might want to check out everything Rush released after this album up to the early 80’s. If you want a great 70’s hard rock album then this is a worthy addition to your collection.